Inclusion elevates all

BY GAD WESONGA

India’s founding father Mahtima Gandhi’s counsel that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members provides an opportunity to peep into the concept of inclusivity especially in hospitality industry where our very best in nobility is expected

Inclusivity is the practice of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups. This definition is cognizant to the fact that people with disabilities are more prone to exclusivity in fundamental aspects such as hospitality.

Hospitality is a friendly and generous behavior towards visitors and guests.  The July 2020 HotelTech Repor, traces the origins of the word hospitality from hospitalitis in Latin, which refers to the relationship between a guest and host.  Broader aspects of hospitality include tourism industry.

Hospitality industry is a critical aspect of human life that provides moments of unwinding and rejuvenation. Judy Muriithi, proprietor of Lorna Safaris, a tours and travel company designed around inclusivity says that once in a while, it is essential for each one of us to break away from our normal routine, and travel to new destinations, interact with new faces, but most importantly, recharge. Whilst it is easy for one to just pack and go, she says, things can be monstrous for persons living with disabilities (PWDs) and the seniors since most of them have limited mobility.

This means that people who are abled differently must be protected and their needs well factored in all aspects of the hospitality industry. Robert Hensel who is a PWD and a Guinness World Records holder for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair, covering a total distance of 6.178 miles once said; “I have a disability, yes that’s true, but all that really means is I may have to take a slightly different path than you.” This different path, used metaphorically in this context takes many forms in the hospitality industry so as to ensure that there is inclusivity in spirit and deed.

According to Luke Kizito, proprietor of Sign TV, a channel that predominantly broadcasts in sign language, inclusivity involves aspects such as design of various hospitality infrastructures such as lifts in the hotel, wash rooms, access ways, telephones, emergency exits among others in ways that capture needs of people with disabilities as much as possible not only for guests but even staff who may have various forms of disability at the work place.

The comprehensive human rights Convention for people with disabilities (UNCRPD) recognizes that PWD encounter various barriers that may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. As mitigation against this threat, the UNCRPD advocates for universal design approach in products range, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible that provide inclusivity. 

In recognition of such efforts towards inclusivity, the International Labor Organization  (ILO) in their report, Disability in the Workplace Company Practices, Paper number 3 lauds The Accor Group, a French headquartered global hospitality brand to have taken deliberate steps towards inclusivity in hospitality. This is manifested in various facets of their organization anchored in its policy such as hiring of staff and its products range.

Recruitment

The repot indicate that at Accor, measures are in place for hiring and integrating people with disabilities into the workforce so as to strengthen the company’s diversity initiatives. Additionally, its employees have to sign formal declaration to combat all forms of discrimination at the work place.

The company also organizes an information day for disabled students so that they can meet hotel professionals and learn more about the industry. The project approach consists of alternate periods of study and industrial work in a hotel or restaurant leading to permanent placement.

Another initiative is based on Accor collaboration with JobinLive, a French company that specializes in creating video résumés for people with disabilities. Job candidates with disabilities record short video résumés to present themselves, their competences and experiences, which is used to enhance their recruitment. 

To better support and retain its disabled employees, Accor has disability awareness initiatives such as training for its managers and employees to alleviate any communication barriers that may exist between employees of different abilities such as sign language course to its managers and employees. The goal is to enhance communication with hearing-impaired employees and also increase the quality of service for hearing-impaired customers.

Products and services

Accor hotels are designed to meet the needs of its disabled guests. The hotels are accessible to wheelchair users, and have accessible bedrooms and bathrooms, wide doorways, lifts with wide entrance and emergency devices, such as vibrating pillows to wake hearing-impaired guests in the case of alarm and induction loops for hearing-impaired persons attending events at its meeting facilities.

Left - Judy Muriithi, proprietor, Lorna Safaris.
Left – Judy Muriithi, proprietor, Lorna Safaris.

Kenya

The National Diversity and Inclusion Awards & Recognition (DIAR) celebrate companies, government agencies, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals who champion diversity and promote inclusion at the workplace and the society at large.

It is an initiative of Daima Trust, an NGO that practices and champions for inclusiveness, diversity and commitment to making inclusion an everyday reality. 

In 2019, Lorna Safaris was an award recipient and is also a 2020 nominee in the award category: Diversity and inclusion for a social enterprise that addresses a basic unmet need or solve a social or environmental problem through a market-driven approach such as employing people who have significant impairment.

Pallet Cafe

Other unique enterprises in Kenya molded around inclusivity in the hospitality industry include Pallet Café, situated in Nairobi, Lavington along James Gichuru Road. The restaurant aims at promoting the hearing-impaired by hiring them and offering them the training required in the food service provision.

Founded by Fazul Hussein, Pallet Café prefer to hire staff with hearing impairment so as to  give people living with such a disability a chance for employment and to improve their self-confidence. The waiters receive training before working at the café and they are constantly being exposed and trained on the job. Other pool of employees is referrals from the Council for Persons with Disabilities who provide links to qualified candidates for hire.

At the Pallet Café, a customer is greeted through sign language and shown to a table by one of the wait-staff as soon as they step into the café whose front page of the menu has basic sign language, which they can use to order food items. 

Given that the waiters cannot hear, they tend to be more alert, constantly scanning to see if customers require attendance. When one settles on choices, they can signal over to a waiter to take their order. The customer can point on what they would like on the menu using codes assigned to each meal or drink. Alternatively, they can write their order down on a pad, which the waiter constantly carries, together with a pen.

Shiatsu Therapy 

In Machakos, Evelyne Nzioki, a blind person provides massage therapy. Nzioki learnt Japanese massage techniques at Machakos Technical Training Institute for the Blind. The therapy helps relax muscles, regulate blood flow and ward off diseases such as diabetes, pressure, minor stroke and general fatigue. 

In 2007, the school received volunteers from the Japan International Cooperation Agency to train students in Shiatsu, a Japanese massage technique. The training takes them through the human anatomy, life skills, dressing a massage bed or table, entrepreneurship, engaging clients and special needs. 

Entertainment

Entertainment is integral in Hospitality. This is where Sign TV, a brainchild of Luke Kizito comes in. He was motivated to provide this inclusivity in the industry due to what he found lacking for her deaf sister in terms of entertainment while growing up in Mundika, Busia County.

Kizito recalls being stressed during their childhood as the rest of the family enjoyed watching television programmes such as movies, music and other local entertainment while the deaf sister was totally missing out and in a world of her own. This kept him thinking how he could help her. 

An Alumni of Kakamega high school and Strathmore University, he says he promised that one day he would persuade television stations to air sign language programmes so that people who are deaf could enjoy too.

Unfortunately, the TV stations rejected the idea and were not comfortable airing programmes that had no voice. Their justification was that it would not augur well with their marketers/advertisers and majority of their hearing audience. This rejection pushed him to pursue starting his own station and with that the birth of Sign TV which started live broadcasting in 2017.

While the main focus of the station is to serve the deaf, Kizito has also incorporated other PWDs as presenters. The inclusive Sign TV channel airs films/movies, music-both gospel and secular and Bible interpretations.

Kizito says their programming is guided by the three pillars: informing, educating and entertaining. His goal for Sign TV is to have mainstream media that is fully accessible to people who are deaf in all counties in Kenya so they can better understand the world and be informed just like everyone else. He also hopes to continue having many viewers, both deaf and hearing, so they can learn sign language, and help create a more inclusive society.

Legal Framework

The Kenya Persons with Disabilities Act of 2003 provide for the rights of persons with disabilities to achieve equalization and inclusivity. These rights are guaranteed in various international, regional and domestic laws. 

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 under the Bill of Rights recognizes in Article 54 that persons with disabilities are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. They are to enabled to among others things reasonable access to all places, public transport and information, to use sign language, Braille or other appropriate means of communication and to access materials and devices to overcome constraints arising from the person’s disability. 

In its report, From Norm to Practice, the Kenya Human Rights Commission evaluates the extent to which this has been achieved in the protection and promotion of inclusivity. According to the report there are positive steps towards realization of human rights of persons with disabilities. However a number of challenges that transcend to the hospitality industry continue to plague and disenfranchise PWDs.

Generally, the report indicates that many aspects of the system lack inclusivity consciousness. For example, the report points out, public transport is completely inaccessible to PWDs. This means that most of persons with disabilities must be assisted, usually by being carried, to board and alight from the vehicles. In other cases, persons with disabilities are asked to pay for the wheelchair.

The existence of these challenges has negatively impacted on the day-to-day activities by persons with disabilities as many would prefer staying at home and not engage in activities that are far from their homesteads thus missing out on the full enjoyment of what the hospitality sector offers.

Additionally, the report points to myriad accessibility challenges faced by PWDs when seeking services or participating in public life. On physical access for example, most of buildings sampled were inaccessible with steep staircases and no ramps, some with very narrow doors that cannot accommodate a person on a wheelchair. 

According to Jessa Gamble, a Canadian and English author, “Being unconscious is the ultimate disability.” It is in this regard and consciousness to inclusivity in society that Article 9 of the CRPD obliges the State to facilitate persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. The State is expected to take suitable measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to the physical environment, to transportation, information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and other facilities and services open to the public on an equal basis with others. This provision is echoed domestically in Section 21 of the Persons with disabilities Act, 2003 (PDA), which entitles PWDs to a barrier-free friendly environment. Section 22 of the PDA requires any proprietor of public facilities to adapt it to suit persons with disabilities.

Sadly, according to the report, the assessment on many private and public buildings showed that physical accessibility for persons with disabilities remains a far-off target with several buildings that house National and County government offices, courts, hotels, public toilets, police stations among others missing out on relevant accessibility standards and inclusivity consciousness.

This score indicates that there is work to be done to achieve desirable inclusivity in many aspects, which feed the hospitality sector. 

“I have had to cancel team building activities, training and workshops when the chosen facilities cannot cater for our needs”, laments Adelaide Sara Munyolo of National Council for Persons with disabilities. “The enabling facilities and infrastructure for PWD is not adequate when seeking services in many places” she adds.

This verdict requires attention in the hospitality industry, which, according to the Hotel Tech Report of June 2020 is about touch points and micro-experiences that make each guest feel valued and at home. Bill Marriott of the global Marriott International Inc, one of the world’s largest lodging companies echoes similar sentiments on true spirit of hospitality saying, “This is what it’s all about: Taking care of people, making them feel good when they’re away from home, making them feel that they’re appreciated and recognizing them.” 

From Elaine Hall, an educator, writer, and children’s acting coach for film and TV, “Inclusion elevates all.”   

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